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Innovation Competition

Austen Smith '16, Hieu Nguyen '17 and Angel Shiwakoti '17 take home first place in the IC@D for their internet-news-delivery service, Vertex. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Champions announced in Innovation Competition at Dickinson

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Competition was fierce during the final round of the Innovation Competition at Dickinson (IC@D), as three finalist teams vied for cash prizes to help them transform their ideas into startups. 

Founded last fall by international-business & management majors Eddie Finocchiaro ’15, Phil Velez ’15 and Alex Torelli ’16, IC@D invited student-entrepreneurs to work together in interdisciplinary teams to develop a new product or service. The final round, held April 30, brought the the finalists together in the Rector Science Complex to present their proposals before an audience of peers, faculty, staff and alumni.

At the vertex

The first-place honors (and $2,000) were awarded to sophomores Hieu Nguyen and Angel Shiwakoti, both double majors in math and computer science, and history major Austen Smith ’16, to help fund their internet-news-delivery service, Vertex. The service, whose beta test is scheduled for rollout on May 15, allows users to sign up for keyword-based news alerts from specific outlets, using natural-language programming to summarize news from multiple sources.

“News sites are filled with news you might not be interested in, and it can take time to sift through it all,” said Smith. “This service brings the news you’re interested in right to you ... Instead of making people find information, information finds people.”

Rubbing the wrong way

Abbey Fisler ’17 (environmental studies, Italian studies), Rita Stern ’17 (earth sciences) and Nam Nguyen ’18 (undeclared) earned the second-place prize, $1,000, to develop Gel-Sox, athletic socks with built-in gel pads.

“We believe Gel-Sox will finally solve the problem of ill-fitting athletic shoes that rub against the back of a person’s ankle,” said Fisler, who got the idea for the product after noticing that a roommate, who ran competitively, often complained of blistered, bleeding feet.

Sharing startup 

Justin McCarty ’15 (environmental studies), Rebecca Shenton ’15 (political science) and Carley Zarzeka ’15 (art & art history) took third place, earning $500 toward startup costs for their service, Sharing. Bringing a grassroots ethos into the high-tech sphere, Sharing connects individuals with a need for a product or service—a drill, for example, to complete a weekend project—with neighbors who have what they need and are willing to loan it for barter or for a small fee.

“Risk is inherent, but we’re bringing it down to the minimum through the review system, and with Community Building Offices in key cities, we’re there to assist at the ground level, if problems arise,” said McCarty, who views Sharing not only as a way to connect people with desired products and services in a sustainable way, but also to help reinforce resource-sharing and other community-strengthening, trust-building behaviors.

A valuable experience

According to Smith, the 10-week competition experience—which included three rounds of critiques by judges and brought competitors in touch with on- and off-campus resources and alumni and parent mentors—was as valuable as the first-place check.

“We want to thank Dickinson College and the Idea Fund for helping make our dream become a reality,” he said, noting that the team has a detailed business plan and will quickly put the first-prize earnings to good use. “All teams who participated had excellent ideas, and we wish them the best of luck the future.”

Finocchiaro agreed. “We are extremely excited and proud of what this [competition] has become, and we’re looking forward to seeing what comes of it next year,” he said.

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Published May 4, 2015